Naaman the Leper
2 Kings 5
J. R. Miller, 1910
The story of Naaman is interesting in several ways. It gives us a glimpse of the times. The country of Israel was subject to incursions from hostile tribes. In these raids not only was property carried away—but women and children were ofttimes taken as captives. Naaman himself was a great man in his country; he was commander-in-chief of the army of Syria. He was held in distinction by the king, who honored Naaman throughout the land. He had won great battles. He was a brave and valiant soldier. But all this list of honors was offset by one sad woe—he was a leper!
This story of Naaman is like many a rich man's life today. He has all that wealth can give him—BUT there is some dark shadow, an incurable disease, a secret sorrow, a domestic infelicity, a shame which nothing can blot out—and that spoils all the glory. No human life is altogether perfect. No human happiness is altogether complete. Leprosy meant sin—every one of us, however great, is a sinner. Leprosy was a terrible disease. It was incurable. Its progress was slow but certain. It ate away the body joint by joint. In the land of Israel it drove a man from his home and friends, to live in isolation. Yet the leprous body—is only a type of the leprous soul. We all have this drawback which Naaman had.
The incident of the little girl is instructive, and yet moving. It was a cruel fate that had torn her away from her home in the country of Israel. Young girls will be interested in this little maid—and will sympathize with her in her sad misfortune. She may have been ten or twelve years of age. She was carried off by a company of Syrian soldiers from her home, and was held captive. She must have been greatly frightened as the rough men of war seized her and took her away with them. Her mother must have wept bitterly. Her father and brothers must have vowed some time to get the child back. But God had her in His keeping, and He used her while a captive to do good.
This is not the only Bible story of a captive child. We all remember about Joseph, who when but a lad was treacherously sold by his own brothers and carried off to Egypt as a slave. Yet he in his captivity proved a great blessing, not only to Egypt but to his own people and to the very brothers who had sold him! Daniel also was carried away when only a child into a heathen country, and he also did a great deal of good.
Sometimes children are put into places and circumstances of hardship, where they must suffer much; but wherever their lot is cast, and whatever the circumstances are in which they find themselves, they may do good. Wherever God allows us to be placed we shall find not only divine protection—but an opportunity for usefulness. God has something for us to do right there—or He would not have put us there. Some children find themselves living in hard conditions, without many pleasures, receiving unjust or cruel treatment, it may be; but they may trust God in the hardest circumstances. He will not forget them, and if they commit their lives to Him—He will use them for doing good.
This little girl was thoughtful and sympathetic. Evidently she had been well trained, for she knew much about God and God's prophet. When she learned of Naaman's condition as a leper—she expressed to her mistress the wish that he might visit the prophet who was in her country. It seems a little strange, that this child who had been carried away captive by Naaman's soldiers, perhaps by Naaman himself, should have this kindly interest in her master. She had been cruelly wronged, torn away from her homeland, and carried as a captive to a foreign country. She was now captive, working as a slave in Naaman's house. We would not have been surprised, if the child had cherished bitter feelings toward the great captain. But instead of this—she looked upon him with pity. She even interested herself so much in his recovery, as to tell her mistress about the prophet who could heal him. We have a lesson here on the treatment of those who have wronged us or injured us. We should always try to do them good.
Another suggestion from this part of the story, is that even a child can do great good. But for this little maid, Naaman probably would have remained a leper, growing worse and worse, until he died. Her words to her mistress made her and Naaman also aware of the healing that was within reach. There is a Prophet greater than Elisha, of whom every Christian child knows—Jesus Christ Himself. We should tell those about us who are in sin or in sorrow—of this great Healer, that they may come to Him as Naaman went to Elisha and find blessing. If this child had said nothing of the prophet, Naaman would not have learned of the healer!
We learn here also that there is no place in life without its opportunities for usefulness. We would say that this little child, a captive in a strange land, could not be of any use in the world—yet her simple-hearted kindness was the means of the curing of the great soldier. A boy may be in a very humble place—just an office boy, an errand boy, a messenger boy; or a girl may be only a little serving maid in some great house. Yet both of them may bear such witness for their Master in their lowly places—as to become great blessings to others!
Naaman quickly availed himself of the information which had come through the little slave girl, and with a letter of introduction from his king—soon appeared in the country of Samaria. But he went to the wrong place with his leprosy. His king had sent him to the king of Israel—instead of to the prophet. And when the letter was read by the king, it caused alarm. He knew that he could not cure the man of his leprosy, and at once he suspected that the letter from the king of Syria was part of a plot to bring about war. As he opened the letter he tore his clothes and said, "Am I God? Can I kill and bring back to life? Why does this fellow send someone to me to be cured of his leprosy?"
Just so, many people go to the wrong place with their troubles, their sorrows, their sins. The king could not cure Naaman's leprosy. There are some things which earthly power cannot do. It is said that money will do anything—but there are many things which money cannot do. It cannot buy love. It cannot give peace to a troubled heart. It cannot prolong life. The queen's cry, "Millions for a moment of time," received no answer. Rich men in authority may have great power—but there are poor men who, by their prayers, by their teachings, or by their lives—can bring blessings which no rich man could bring. It is better to have Elisha's power to do good—than to be king!
Elisha helped the king out of his perplexing dilemma. "When Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his robes, he sent him this message: Why have you torn your robes? Have the man come to me—and he will know that there is a prophet in Israel." It was a splendid cavalcade that waited before the prophet's humble dwelling that day. Although Naaman was a leper and had come to implore help of a lowly servant of God—he kept up all his grand style. There was no sign of humility. Indeed, he expected to be cured in a grand way, and then to pay for the healing with a princely sum. He was not there as a poor suppliant, and no doubt he thought he was conferring great honor upon this humble and obscure prophet in coming thus to him.
There are many people in these modem days, who treat Christ's Church very much as Naaman wished to treat Elisha. They put on all their magnificence when they attend the services. They consider that they honor the Church when they accept its ministrations. They like to be called patrons of the Church. They show favor to it. Such people, like Naaman here, will find it necessary to get out of their chariots, to lay aside their fine trappings, to step down into the valley of humiliation, and to bathe in the fountain of Christ's blood—before they can find any real blessing at God's hand. There is no way to the favor and mercy of God—but by the way of penitence and humility.
Elisha was not awed by the grandeur of the general before his gate. He did not even come out to speak to the great man sitting in the chariot before his door. He showed not a shadow of servility. He simply sent a message to him, telling him to go and wash in Jordan seven times. Naaman was very angry and turned away in rage. He was angry because Elisha had not shown deference to his grandeur. He was not there as one of the common herd—but as the great general of Syria. He had formed his own idea of the way he ought to be healed—in some grand way. There are people who in their pride and haughtiness, imagine that God should treat them differently from common folks. The way of the cross is altogether too humble for them. They turn away with scorn and rage from it!
But we must not fail to notice how nearly Naaman missed being healed. Had it not been for the entreaties of his attendants he would have gone away a leper still, rather than submit to the prophet's lowly requirements. There are many people who fail altogether of salvation, for the same reason. They come to the cross—but when they hear what they must do to be saved—they turn away, keeping their sins and their leprous hearts, rejecting the salvation which can come to them only in Christ's way!
It is well that Naaman's servants were wiser than himself. They persuaded him to do as the prophet had bidden him to do. So he thought better of his course; he let the counsel of his friends influence him; he considered how foolish it would be for him—to miss the curing of his leprosy. He let his rage cool down and returned humble.
He had a second chance. This shows the divine patience. Thousands of people reject Christ, and then, when they come, by and by—they find the way still open. They have a second chance. God waits long to be gracious even to the sinner who has often refused the invitation of mercy. Naaman did as he was bidden. "So Naaman went down to the Jordan River and dipped himself seven times, as the man of God had instructed him. And his flesh became as healthy as a young child's, and he was healed!"